Where Asia Meets America: Reimagining The Freer Sackler Galleries

by Sterling Lucas

The Smithsonian museums of Asian Art celebrated a grand reopening with an opulent weekend festival.

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The Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room from the Alice S. Kandell Collection
Objects: Tibet, China, and Mongolia, 13th–20th century

The Freer Gallery of Art has been closed for renovations for almost two years. During that time, the institutions curators reimagined the exhibitions to highlight the man behind the collection, American Industrialist, Charles Lang Freer.

Opening its doors in 1923, The Freer became the first Smithsonian museum of art. The Freer’s sister museum, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery has been closed since July.

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The new Sackler features four immersive exhibitions, each one presenting an enthralling aspect of Asian culture.

Visitors are greeted by contemporary Indian artist Subodh Gupta’s instillation work entitled Terminal. The large brass sculptures channel spires that are often found adorned on top of temples and mosques. A path for visitors has been cut through fine threads that connect the towers.

The three exhibitions on the main floor of the Sackler incorporate the latest exhibition technology. Curator of American Art Lee Glazer described the visitor experience at the Sackler as “immersive and intense.” An application for iPhone and Android has been developed to compliment the exhibitions and allow visitors to explore the collection even after leaving the museum.

Devine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt, was organized in collaboration with The Brooklyn Museum. The exhibition illustrates feline worship in ancient Egypt with fascinating objects including miniature sarcophagi for cats.

Encountering the Buddha: Art and Practice Across Asia, features a full size tibetan shrine that rivals the grandeur of The Peacock Room. The third exhibition on the main floor of the Sackler explores ancient bells of China. Resound offers visitors the chance to create their own composition and explore the engineering behind one of the oldest musical instruments in the world.

God Tutu as a Sphinx, 1st century C.E. or later Limestone, painted, Brooklyn Museum Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund

The collection that comprises the Freer Gallery of Art has been reorganized to spark new connections and highlight the collector behind the objects Charles Lang Freer. The Peacock Room, designed by James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Freer, has been reinstalled by Lee Glazer to closer resemble how Freer originally had it in his home. The two icons of American history notoriously got into a disagreement about the aesthetic direction of the room. Favoring Freer’s interpretation is just one of the ways Director of the Freer and Sackler Galleries, Julian Raby has reinfused the museum with Freer’s spirit.

Perfect Harmony, a new media piece produced by 59 Productions was projected on the facade of the Freer five times throughout Saturday. The lively video was truly a spectacular sight and served as an introduction to the life of Freer, his collection, and Asian culture today.

The two day festival also included paper lantern and lotus craft stations, performances from Grammy award winners, The Silkroad Ensemble and Asian street food from local eateries.

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Weekend guests placed their lotus candles in the fountain at the Freer Sackler

Julian Raby has reasserted the institution as a key destination on the National Mall. The exhibitions are thought-provoking but, most importantly, fun.

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